When Can You Start Walking Your Dog Without a Leash?

A question we get a lot here at When Hounds Fly is “when can I start walking my dog off leash?”  It seems like it’s a goal for a lot of people – almost like a sign their dog is well trained, to be able to walk around the city without a leash on.  The answer we always give them?  Never.

We know they mean well, and they’re eager about training their dogs, and training them well, and we love seeing that effort.  But – for those of us living in Toronto (and all city folk) – never is the right answer.

Why is it so important to keep your dog on leash?  Let’s break it down.

What are the potential downsides to having your dog on a leash?

None.  Zip.  Zilch.  Your dog could care less; at least, assuming you’ve trained them to walk well on a leash.

What are the reasons to always have a leash on your dog?

  1. Safety.  You could have the best trained dog in the world, but you just never know.  What if your wonderful, smart dog just one time takes off after a squirrel or a cat and gets hit by a car?  Would you ever forgive yourself?  What if a car backfires and scares your dog, and your dog runs away?  It only takes one time, and no dog is perfect.
  2. In respect of other dogs.  One of the most common reasons we see clients for private lessons is because their dogs are leash reactive; ie. fearful, anxious, or aggressive towards other dogs while they are on leash.  One of the biggest complaints these clients have is that people let their off-leash dogs run up to their on-leash dogs, saying, “don’t worry, my dog is friendly!”  But the fact is, yours may be – but theirs isn’t.  Theirs is scared or aggressive.  And yours is at worst going to get injured (going back to the first point, safety) – potentially then developing their own fear or reactivity – or at best, will remain safe but set that reactive dog’s training that they’ve been working so hard on back.
  3. In respect of other people.  You love dogs.  That’s great; we do too.  But not everyone does.  Some people are scared of dogs, or have allergies, or have religious/cultural beliefs that mean that they don’t want to interact with your dog.  Letting your off leash dog charge up to them is incredibly insensitive.

 

City of Toronto Leash Dog In Public Poster

Leaving leashes off in non-designated areas is just plain selfish.  It might make you feel good and proud of how good your dog is, but your dog doesn’t care, and it is ultimately detrimental to everyone around you.  Want our city to be more dog friendly?  Be a good neighbour with your dog, and keep leashes on unless in off leash areas!

 

 

ClickerExpo 2017

We – Rachael, Andre, and Verena – just got back from Portland, Oregon, where we spend 4 days at ClickerExpo – a huge conference for clicker trainers, run by the Karen Pryor Academy, where all three of us studied.  It was a truly amazing experience, spending four straight days surrounded by clicker trainers of all walks of life and experience levels.

We spent one full day doing chicken camp – in which we clicker trained chickens with Terry Ryan.  This should be on every dog trainer’s bucket list.  It’s an excellent way to brush up on your precision and timing, with a less forgiving animal than a dog.

Three days were then spend back to back in labs and seminars, with presenters like Kathy Sdao, Dr. Susan G. Friedman, Ken Ramirez, Michele Pouliot, Sarah Owings, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Hannah Branigan, Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, and more.

I think it’s fair to say that  we all came back better trainers – and teachers – than we were when we left.

Rachael, Verena, and Andre in Portland
Chicken Camp Attendees
Andre and his Chicken (Photography by: Marty Strausbaugh)
Terry Ryan & Verena
First Night of Expo Meet and Greet
Working with Chickens! (Andre on left, Rachael on right)
Andre, Verena, and Rachael with our Chickens

Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind

Katie, Andre, and I recently met with Yariv Melamed, a dog trainer for Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, while he was in town for work.

Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved, Israel
Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved, Israel.  Photo by Yariv Melamed.

In and of itself, this was pretty cool.  Meeting people who train working dogs in any field is always interesting.  Many working dog trainers still train using old fashioned methods (read: correction).  Here’s the cool thing about Yariv and the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind: they switched over to exclusively clicker training five years ago.

Announcing the changes in training methods from correction training to clicker training took them four months.  They consulted clicker training experts such as Michele Pouliot (Director of R&D at Guide Dogs for the Blind, Karen Pryor Academy/ClickerExpo Faculty) for best practices. All the trainers got on board with the new methods.  The organization decided that positive reinforcement was the best and more humane method to train, and so they did it.  It’s really an inspiration; there are many other organizations closer to home who have more resources than the Israel Guide Dog Center who can’t be bothered to make those same changes, or who are in the process but are making very slow transitions.

This change in training methods is across the board.  The trainers on staff  are clicker trainers, and they check in monthly with their puppy raiser foster parents, who have the dogs for the first year of their lives.  Then they train with the clients who will ultimately get the dogs for several months, and check in once a year with the clients and their guide dogs.

The Israel Guide Dog Center did side by side tests of the old training methods versus the new, and found clicker training more effective and more precise.  Up to and including things like the dogs knowing exactly where to stop on curbs by the road, avoiding overhead branches, etc.

A typical sidewalk in Israel
A typical sidewalk in Israel

Here’s an added challenge: the picture above is a typical sidewalk in Israel.  They’re uneven, blocked by garbage and cars and treed, unpredictable.  And still, using clicker training and positive reinforcement, the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is able to train highly effective guide dogs.

Katie, Yariv, and I at our school
Katie, Yariv, and I at our school.

No more excuses… if they can do it, anyone can!

(Thank you for Shane and Nancy Spring, Cooper the Mini Golden Doodle’s parents, for the introduction to Yariv)

School is in Session!

 

Why Positive Reinforcement?
Why Positive Reinforcement?

Earlier this month, we had the privilege of  being invited to do a lecture for a University of Toronto Introduction to Psychology for Ashley Waggoner Denton.  It is always an honour to be able to contribute to education and the scientific community; after all, where would dog trainers be today without the work of people like BF Skinner – who we have to thank for operant conditioning – and Ivan Pavlov and his dogs – who brought us classical conditioning?

operant-quadrants

Andre spoke to the class about Skinner and Pavlov, but also Keller Breland, one of the leaders in humane animal training, and Karen Pryor, founder of our alma mater and the woman who brought clicker training to dogs.  He also brought Petey, his senior beagle, to help him give visual demonstrations of the concepts that were being discussed.

Sit Pretty, Petey!
Sit Pretty, Petey!

Maybe it is just me, but it seemed like students in the lecture were more focused than I remember people being back in university… maybe the cute beagle had something to do with it!  He did get swarmed by adoring fans at the end of the lecture.  Hopefully the students enjoyed the class; maybe we have some future dog trainers in their midst!